It’s A Challenge To Be The Only Plus Size Bridesmaid — Here’s How It Could Be Better

One of the most pervasive myths regarding weddings is that all bridesmaid dresses are inherently terrible. I mean, have you seen 27 Dresses? Although “inherently terrible” may sound dramatic, there is actually some truth to this myth. Sometimes it’s due to the bride’s taste being wildly different from yours, sometimes it’s simply because there’s just no way that one dress will look good on everyone. The experience is rarely, if ever, Sisterhood of the Traveling Bridesmaid Dresses, no matter how much a person might wish it were. There’s always the chance you might not completely love the bridesmaid dress you’re asked to wear.

It’s easy to understand the anxiety of realizing you’ll be wearing a dress you don’t really love in front of a bunch of strangers. But now imagine, on top of that, that you’re plus size and you know that the wedding industry isn’t exactly welcoming to body diversity. And then imagine you’re the only plus size person in the bridal party, the only person who fully understands what it’s like to dress a plus size body. Do you feel the anxiety? Welcome to my world.

I’ve been a bridesmaid six times and in most of those instances, I’ve been the only plus size person standing up there with the bride. No matter how confident you are, it can be pretty isolating to be the only representation of a certain body type. It’s taken me a long time to feel confident with my body and my style (no matter who I’m standing next to), so to hand over the styling reins to a person who doesn’t understand how to dress my plus size body can be, well, scary. But I’m also a complete believer in the fact that a bridesmaid’s job is to take care of the bride, not have her take care of you. It’s a tough line to walk between not wanting to complain to the bride about the dress she wants you to wear, but also wanting to share your perspective as a plus size person — a perspective the rest of the bridal party might have no experience with.

Nine years ago I was a bridesmaid in a wedding in which the bride asked the bridal party to wear a short, flirty dress from a popular, preppy brand. At the time, I was a size 16 and although this dress topped out at a 16, it turns out that that 16 was different than the 16s I usually wore. When I tried on the dress it zipped, but barely. It made breathing (essential for both attending a wedding and life in general) difficult, and there was a highly-inappropriate-for-a-wedding-ceremony cleavage situation going on. If it was any other dress, I would have returned it immediately. But there was no larger size I could exchange it for, so panic-stricken, I sought out a tailor to perform a miracle. She was able to find enough material from the under-layer to pull from and expanded the dress on the sides. Your girl could breathe and more importantly, dance her heart out. That tailor saved my butt — and my boobs, but it came at a cost much higher than the "oh, just take a few inches off the hem" type of dress tailoring I was expecting.

Today, I’m a size 18/20 and know that not even my miracle worker tailor would be able to get me into that size 16 now. I still get some anxiety just thinking about that dress, but mostly it just makes me sad. I’m on the smaller end of the plus size spectrum. In theory, it shouldn’t be that hard to find a dress that fits. But it always is.

The other bridesmaid experience that stays with me is one of those “let’s all go out and try on bridesmaid dresses together!” situations. I knew going in that a small boutique like the one we were visiting (heck, even a bigger bridal retailer) wouldn’t have many (or, often, any) samples in the plus size range, but I turned that into a positive: I wouldn’t have to try anything on! I could just sit there and let the smaller girls get in and out of dresses while I sipped on champagne. It would be fine. Sure, I would be sitting at a boutique and watching other women try on dresses that I’m unable to because that boutique deems me either unworthy or invisible, but it was fine, I told myself. Everything was fine.

Until it wasn’t fine. The other bridesmaids fell in love with one dress that was backless. That’s when I started to worry. I never go braless. Ever. I don’t even like strapless bras because I don’t feel supported enough, so backless bras have always been out of the question. To make matters worse, I felt like the only person worried about the boob situation. But, again, I didn’t want to be high maintenance so I simply joined the small faction of ladies who preferred a different dress and hoped for the best. Thankfully, another bridesmaid miracle occurred and the bride opted for a different dress that allowed everyone to choose their own strap situation. A true blessing.

So, yes, it’s taken me a couple sweat-inducing weddings and a few years to figure it out, but I’ve finally learned how to navigate being a plus size bridesmaid. Aside from a little residual anxiety, reliving these experiences mainly just reminds me of a few things I wish I had known about before I made my first few appearances in bridal parties.

If You’re The Bride or Bridesmaid, Look Into Size-Inclusive Retailers Beforehand

One good tip for any bride with a plus size bridesmaid is to check the size range of any retailer where you’re considering looking for bridesmaid dresses. Places like David’s Bridal, Azazie, and The Dessy Group carry lots of options that are available in a wide range of sizes. Starting off at a place that you know has lots of sizing options will prevent stress down the road. And who needs more stress when they’re planning a wedding? That’s not a rhetorical question. The answer is no one.

You want to be a good bridesmaid? Instead of just complaining about a dress that has a lack of size options, don’t be afraid to offer up suggestions that have options for everyone, like the ones above. Done at the beginning of the dress hunt, you’ll be helping the bride cross one more item off her extensive to-do list.

If You’re The Bride Or The Bridesmaid, Consider A Retailer With An At-Home Try-On Option

Both brides and plus size bridesmaids should know that no one should ever feel isolated or unwelcome like I did in that bridal boutique. Now with online retailers like Revelry (which has bridesmaid dresses in sizes 0-32) that allow you to order samples in any size to try on at home and then send back, no one has to. A bride can order samples in a whole slew of sizes and throw her own bridesmaid dress fitting party. Now that sounds like a pre-wedding event I can get into.

If You’re The Bride, Consider Choosing a Color Palette, Rather Than A Specific Dress

Recently, I was a bridesmaid for one of my oldest friends, who decided she’d pick a color and her bridesmaids could choose any dress they wanted in that color, a trendy wedding choice these days. Perhaps it was because I was older and had grown in confidence, or perhaps it was because she is one of the people I’m closest to, but suddenly I felt the need to both thank her (now I could go hunting for the perfect bridesmaid dress on ASOS Curve, Modcloth, and Eloquii) and vent about the entire plus size formal wear situation. Allowing each bridesmaid to choose a dress that made her feel comfortable alleviated a lot of stress and made me feel like I could explain the entire plus size wedding insustry situation without it feeling like it was a judgement on the bride’s taste. All of which led me to learning the best (and perhaps most obvious) lesson of all…

If You’re The Bridesmaid, Say Something

After a long chat with this friend – who had no idea about how the bridal insutry treated women of my size – I realized that worrying about being a high-maintenance bridesmaid may not have been as helpful as actually voicing my concerns.

It may be intimidating, but talking to the bride (someone who is almost always one of the closest people in your life) can actually be helpful on both ends. So, yes, know that on the day of the wedding it’s your job to hold the bride’s dress up while they pee — but also know that you were almost definitely asked to be a bridesmaid because you’re important to the bride, and at the end of the day, they would probably prefer you’re honest with them than totally uncomfortable on their wedding day.

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